From Juventus versus Tottenham Hotspur to PSG battling Real Madrid, Mint analyses all eight ties of the first knockout stage of this season's Champions League
After more than two months, the Champions League knockout stage kicks off with Basel welcoming Manchester City and Juventus playing hosts to Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday night. The round of 16 promises some enthralling football with reigning European champions Real Madrid taking on nouveau riche Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea battling LaLiga giants Barcelona for a spot in the quarter-finals. Here’s an analysis of both the legs of all eight rounds of 16 ties.
Basel vs Manchester City 13 February, St Jakob-Park; and 7 March, Etihad Stadium
Manchester City are enjoying one of the best seasons of any team in Europe this campaign, sitting at the top of the Premier League table, 16 points ahead of their nearest rivals, Manchester United. A first league title for Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola in England is all but wrapped up, but he wouldn’t be content with only one trophy in his second season at Etihad, having spent over £210 million in the summer transfer window and a further £57 million for Aymeric Laporte in winter.
Guardiola’s team appear primed for winning an unprecedented quadruple with the League Cup and FA Cup to go with the league title and the Champions League.
Having won the last eight Swiss titles on the trot, Basel are currently second in league standings. And despite their good record against English opposition in recent years, they are unlikely to pose much trouble to Manchester City.
Winner prediction: Manchester City
Juventus vs Tottenham 13 February, Juventus Stadium; 7 March, Wembley
Juventus go into this tie in splendid domestic form, having won their last eight games. Massimiliano Allegri’s side have overcome the loss of Leonardo Bonucci, and in fact, have conceded just once in their last 11 league games. That defence will be tested by Spurs’ marksman Harry Kane, who is leading the Premier League with a score of 23 goals.
Tottenham Hotspur performed exceedingly well in the group stage, topping their group, ahead of reigning European champions Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. They head into 20 February’s clash on the back of a great display in a 1-0 win over Arsenal. The tie promises to be one of the picks of the last 16 and the Old Lady’s European pedigree may just prove to be the deciding factor against the lesser experienced Spurs.
Winner prediction: Juventus
Porto vs Liverpool 14 February, Estadio do Dragao; 6 March, Anfield
Jurgen Klopp’s team have been marred by their inconsistency. They have outplayed Manchester City 4-3, but were easily defeated by relegation-threatened Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion. They will need a couple of solid defensive displays against Porto in order to take their European campaign beyond the last 16 as Sergio Conceicao’s side are more than capable of pouncing on any mistakes with Vincent Aboubakar, Yacine Brahimi and Moussa Marega in their forward ranks.
The arrival of Virgil van Dijk has brought some much-needed solidity to the Liverpool backline but he will need a trusted lieutenant by his side and hope that Loris Karius continues the good form he displayed last weekend.
Winner prediction: Liverpool
Real Madrid vs Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) 14 February, Santiago Bernabeu; 6 March, Parc des Princes
The reigning European champions have endured a torrid domestic campaign this season that no one quite predicted after their back-to-back Champions League wins. They lie fourth on the league table behind Barcelona, albeit with a game in hand, and are already out of the Copa del Rey. Champions League remains their only chance of silverware this season, but they couldn’t have got a harder draw in the last 16.
PSG, having acquired Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for astronomical sums, are among the favourites for European glory and this tie against European royalty will show what returns their Qatari owners get on investment. The Parisians are, expectedly, running away with the league title against much inferior domestic opposition. But lack of intense competition on a weekly basis may just prove to be a major hurdle in their Champions League dreams when the richly-assembled side need to raise their game against the 12-time European champions.
Winner prediction: Real Madrid
Chelsea vs Barcelona 20 February, Stamford Bridge; 14 March, Camp Nou
Barcelona remain the only team among the top five European countries to still be unbeaten in their league. They are firm favourites for the league title and are already in the final of the Copa del Rey. The Catalans, enjoying a resurgence under Ernesto Valverde’s management, will be eyeing an unprecedented third treble and Chelsea, with their ongoing struggles, look like they could have done with an easier fixture.
Antonio Conte is increasingly cutting an exasperated figure on the Chelsea touchline, having struggled to get the club to sufficiently bolster his squad after the last season’s league-winning campaign, and sorry displays on the pitch. These two teams have a fascinating recent history in Europe and despite their issues, Chelsea will be eager to cause an upset and make the last eight.
It was a defeat in the Champions League group stage against PSG that cost Carlo Ancelotti his job at the helm of Bayern Munich, but his successor Jupp Heynckes has breathed a new life in the team, leading them to the top of the Bundesliga standings. They eventually got their revenge against the Parisians with a 3-1 win at home, but Heynckes, having come out of retirement to take up the Bavarian job, will be keen to add to the Champions League titlehe won in 2013.
Despite finishing second to PSG, Bayern appear to have got the easier draw and will be heavy favourites to defeat the Turks, who have sold their striker Cenk Tosun to Everton and sit fourth in the Super Lig table.
Winner prediction: Bayern Munich
Sevilla vs Manchester United 21 February, Sanchez Pizjuan; 13 March, Old Trafford
Manchester United’s displays have been below par this season, with the club having completed extensive shopping in the summer to give Jose Mourinho a side that he could call his own. But Mourinho’s men are 16 points adrift in the title race and have just lost to relegation-threatenedNewcastle United. Nevertheless, the Red Devils are likely to do a better job against Sevilla who play a more open brand of football than Newcastle.
Sevilla are still getting used to the ways of Vincenzo Montella, who is not even two months into his new job. Having held Liverpool to two draws in the group stage, they will be eager to spoil Mourinho’s mood further. However, Manchester United have enough quality in their ranks to get past their Spanish rivals.
Winner prediction: Manchester United
Shakhtar Donetsk vs Roma 21 February, OSK Metalist Stadium; 13 March, Stadio Olimpico
Roma did well to top their group ahead of Chelsea and Atletico Madrid and were rewarded with a fairly even fixture against the reigning Ukrainian champions. Shakhtar made full use of their home games and handed a defeat each to Feyenoord, Napoli and Manchester City to reach the last 16.
However, their long domestic winter break means that they will just have a week of action in their legs in 2018 when they take on Roma. But if they repeat their group stage form at home, Roma might not go any further.